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This paper explores the topic of over-the-counter dietary and nutritional supplements. More specifically, it goes in to discussing how nutritional supplements relate to consumer behavior, while further discussing this directly to weight-loss supplements, supplements for illnesses, and probiotics, and it also discusses how nutritional supplements impact marketing decisions, focusing specifically on the health movement and different target markets. This report analyzes many different academic sources to discover what a nutritional supplement really is and who the consumers are. Whether nutritional supplements are necessary is a controversial topic, and this report focuses more on how nutritional supplements are consumed in the business world.

Over-The-Counter Dietary and Nutritional Supplements

Over-the-counter dietary and nutritional supplements have been around for many, many years, but they are becoming increasingly popular as more people are investing into their overall health and wellness. These supplements can include certain vitamins, minerals, and herbs just to name a few. One of the biggest challenges with nutritional supplements is that the term has various meanings in different parts of the world, and regulations applying to these are also different. Another challenge is that this topic has many different viewpoints, some believe that the many ingredients they use are not beneficial to our bodies, while others believe that they are (Dwyer, Coates, & Smith, 2018). The United States Food and Drug Administration states that they do not review or approve the safety of dietary supplements before they are sold, so consumers need to be aware of the ingredients in the supplements they are taking and be informed about the products (U.S. FDA, 2013).

How Nutritional Supplements Relate to Consumer Behavior

Many different goods or services can affect consumer behavior, so it is safe to assume that nutritional supplements do as well. For this section, we will first look over the average person's consumption of nutritional supplements. According to the 2014 FDA Health and Diet Survey, when asked if the consumer has taken a multi-vitamin in the past twelve months, sixty percent of the surveyors answered yes. However, when asked about if they have taken any herbs or botanicals as supplements that are not vitamins, only thirty-two percent answered yes. Along with this, when people take supplements, the survey says that a large portion of participants get their information on the product from a doctor or nurse, but a lot of others also use the internet and product labels (Lin, Zhang, Carlton, & Lo, 2014).

Individual factors and situational factors can both play a part in someone looking into trying nutritional supplements. One individual factor specifically is age. In the 1990's, doctors were prescribing vitamins and folic acid pills to patients in hopes to reduce their chances of having heart problems, but due to the little information they had on these vitamins, they actually caused patients to have more heart problems. This led to a lot of older generations using vitamins more frequently than younger generations, even if they do not know the full ingredient list (Szabo, 2018). Another source mentions that one-third of children use supplements such as vitamins, body-building powder, and melatonin (Bakalar, 2018). Although age is an important factor, there are still others to take into consideration. In this report, I will further discuss how nutritional supplements, specifically ones for weight loss, illnesses, and certain probiotics relate to consumer behavior.

Dietary Supplements for Weight Loss

It is common for places to sell very unhealthy foods, sometimes even advertising them incorrectly, then trying to make more profit by selling weight loss pills and other supplements. More consumers are concerned about a healthy lifestyle, but we live in a fast-paced environment where they want the outcome quickly, so many people will resort to nontraditional methods of weight loss. The companies who produce dietary supplements is continuing to grow, and in 2017 it was expected to exceed $15 billion in sales (Reddy, 2017). According to one study, the number of dietary supplements consumed for weight loss purpose will be purchased more by women than men, and they were anywhere from twenty-five to thirty-five years old. This study also mentions that forty-five percent of the participants preferred using slimming teas or liquids, forty-one percent preferred pills, fifteen percent used attachments, and ten percent used creams (Kassean & Kaleeka, 2015).  Since a large target market for this kind of supplement is women, we could hypothesis that this is because many people see skinny as beautiful, due to the celebrities and influential people we see on television, social media, and magazines. One weight loss company, called Alli, created their campaign with the consumers in mind. They knew their target market was the kind of person who has tried everything to lose weight, and even if they do not believe all of the claims they will give the product a try (Elliot, 2007). With these statements in mind, it looks like the consumers who purchase these supplements are adult women who are looking for a quick and easy way to lose weight. The consumers are also adventurous and are willing to try new products.

Nutritional Supplements for Illnesses

Many people use supplements as a way to help with an illness or disease they have. An example of this would be someone who has arthritis taking calcium, folate, niacin, or vitamin B supplements (Satia-Abouta et al., 2003). Although most of these vitamins are not proven to help consumers, they show the same behavior as the people purchasing the weight loss supplements. They are both very trusting and seem to be willing to do anything that they believe will help. For both men and women, consumers with one specific illness, hyperlipidemia, have a significant increase in purchasing nutritional supplements, but men were more likely to use supplements for this consistently (Li, Kaaks, Linseisen, & Rohrmann, 2010). This is interesting because although women are more likely to use supplements, men seem to purchase them more often.

Probiotics & Multivitamins

Probiotics and multivitamins are one of the most common types of nutritional supplement that people take. A lot of people will assume that if someone takes a multivitamin, they will often forget about eating healthy and exercising regularly. However, studies show that the consumers who are taking daily multivitamins often are more health-conscious than those who do not take multivitamins (Stampfer, 2017). Along with this, consumers are taking these to improve their overall health, not to prevent a specific illness or change their appearance.

When taking multivitamins, the primary factor for why consumers bought them was due to a recommendation from their physician. In addition to the medical professionals, people also rely on the opinions of their family, mass media, friends, advertisements, in-store displays, and the internet (Peters, Shelton, & Sharma, 2003). When someone considers buying a multivitamin, they will probably have a different reason for purchasing than another person. These are all personal and can vary depending on a consumer's current health. One important factor to consider when discussing multivitamins is to remember that people of all ages use them. As the years go on, more adults ages eighteen to thirty-four are buying multivitamins, along with older generations and adults purchasing them for their young children (Weindruch, 2016).

How Nutritional Supplements Impact Marketing Decisions

Nutritional supplements can impact marketing decisions in many different ways. As we advance further, we are discovering new ways to market products to target consumers. The nutritional supplement market is quickly expanding, and this could be due to consumers aging, an increase in preventative health, a rise in consumer awareness, and a shift from ingredient focused messaging to brand positioning (Teichner & Lesko, 2013). In this section of the report, we are going to focus on how the recent health movemen, product safety, and target markets are all impacting marketing decisions of nutritional supplements.

Health Movement and Product Safety

One very important factor to consider when marketing nutritional supplements is the health movement that is currently going on. More consumers today seem to be engaged in group exercise classes, such as Soul Cycle, and eat organically labeled food. In 2013, California voters demanded that their food was organic, humane, sustainable, and GMO-free, and that led to a huge number of companies starting to label their food as “Non-GMO” (Robbins, 2013). This movement changes the marketing decisions when looking into nutritional supplements. One example of this is a product called the Bicycle Blender by Vega. This product markets itself as “Sell a Movement in a Smoothie” which is referring to the current health movement. This smoothie is filled with supplements and advertises a cleaner, healthier life (Scott, 2014).

One article published in the Journal of Animal Science claims that in order to successfully integrate into this movement, one must understand the production requirements and reduce some of the ingredients they use, even if that means production cost may increase (Bertram, 2016). Consumers today care about what is in their food and how their food is produced, so companies need to learn how to market these features. To prove this, Non-GMO sales increased from seventy percent from 2013 to 2015 (Bunge & Gasparro, 2015). Although food that is labeled “organic” and “non-GMO” are not the same thing, most consumers do not recognize the difference between these two statements.

Target Markets

The dietary and nutritional supplement industry has many different target markets which affect the marketing decisions made. The target market for most nutritional supplements is predominantly female, aged thirty-five to fifty-five years old, well educated, and have high income. Although men are also in the market for supplements, women tend to believe more of the health benefits than men (Stanton et al., 2001). Another specific market to be aware of are teenage and adult athletes. In a recent study about athletes, twenty-seven percent reported using dietary supplements and a large portion of those participants said that they get their supplement information from their coach (Scofield & Unruh, 2006). Therefore, the target markets can impact marketing decisions when focusing on nutritional and dietary supplements. These target markets can vary from educated, adult women to young athletes.


In this report, I have discussed what nutritional supplements are, how these supplements relate to consumer behavior, and how they impact marketing decisions. When mentioning consumer behavior, I focused on three main categories: weight-loss supplements, supplements for illnesses, and probiotics. From this, we discussed why consumers purchase nutritional supplements, the demographics of those purchasing them, and how consistently they were purchased or used. In the section covering how nutritional supplements impact marketing decisions, the health movement and target markets came into play. Both of these relate to marketing decisions and affect what consumers buy these supplements. Overall, women seem to be a large consumer for supplements and are actively engaged in their health. However, there are still skeptical consumers who do not believe that nutritional supplements are beneficial.


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